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The History of Heirlooms

The History of Heirlooms

Heirlooms are items passed down from generation to generation. Historically, inheritors were barred from removing the item from the family estate. All wills had to say that it would continue to be passed down. Now heirlooms are more loosely defined and the most common inherited items are from one’s family’s military services. It is becoming increasingly more rare to have an heirloom with a story behind it, but when you do, it’s a lovely window into the past. Keeping the stories of family heirlooms alive is incredibly important, but it’s also exciting to create new ones you can pass on. 

Common Heirlooms

Some of the most common heirlooms are fine jewelry, timepieces, furniture, recipes, letters, collections, quilts, chests, and art. Heirlooms do not have to be expensive. They are more about the precious memories behind them, but for an item to hold up it has to be well made. In 2020, most of our objects are breaking in our lifetimes. Tabletop sewing machines used to be passed down, but sewing machines today last 5 years if you’re lucky. Being a conscious consumer will save you funds and make it so you are able to gift your children or nieces and nephews with the items that brought you joy.


It has been confirmed that people who know more about their ancestors and where they came from have higher self-esteem and a stronger sense of self-worth. These human connections are incredibly important for development. If you don’t know much about your family, there’s no time like the present to learn. Instead of requesting gifts from family members, ask to record them telling stories about themselves and the past. You can also start creating your own heirlooms today.


Scrapbooks are a great place to start. Purchase or thrift a quality leather book that you can tuck memories in. Not just pictures–put tickets, newspaper clippings, maybe even a mask from COVID. Needlework and other loved textiles are a great option. Rather than just passing down trinkets, giving family members items they can get use out of will make them even more valuable. Quilts are great for this reason. 


Keeping a diary is a habit that will help you become more in tune with your emotions and will be interesting for your ancestors to read. You don’t have to get really personal, just note what you did that day, what was in the news, and maybe tape in little receipts or papers you received. Take a lot of pictures–everyone has a great camera in their pocket nowadays. It’s worth getting them printed to make the memories more tangible. Your great granddaughter will appreciate having polaroids over scrolling through your icloud. If you’re worried about space and clutter, save your favorite photos onto a flash drive. 


Collect books. Print books are here to stay. We were told the younger generations would prefer digital media to paper but they’ve proved us wrong. About 90% of Gen Z likes to either borrow library books or purchase them. Buy special editions of your favorite stories so that one day people can connect with you through what you enjoyed. 

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Vintage clothing and nice coats are less often thought of as heirlooms. If you have a nice designer piece you’ve grown out of, consider preserving it so a younger generation can enjoy it. Everything eventually comes back in style. Jewelry and watches are an alternative option–these are functional pieces that will make the wearer feel special. 


Quality furniture that will last is a great investment–it’s nice to create a collection of pieces you won’t have to replace and that will gain value in later years. My family has a piano from the early 1800’s that will forever be passed down. It has become priceless because of the ivory keys–it is now illegal to use ivory in manufacturing, so a piano like it will never be made again. We found letters and coupons inside it when it was being tuned for the first time. I took piano lessons on it, and whenever I sit down at it now, I reminisce on memories and the people who played it before me. The next time you purchase an addition for your home, think about it one day being passed on.

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